Sterling Municipal Library and the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Amateur Observers Society at the East Meadow Public Library
You Don’t Have to Be a Rocket Scientist to Bring NASA into Your Children’s and Youth Programs
Young patrons are launching the rockets they built. Eating cookies they’ve carved into Moon shapes. Studying the lava flows on a Martian volcano (i.e., layers of Play-Doh shaped by a vinegar-and-baking soda “eruption”). Using tools to investigate “mystery balloons” filled with objects that mimic the surprises scientists love to uncover by studying other planets. Children ages eight to thirten do all this and more as they investigate Earth and the solar system in the library through hands-on activities from the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s Explore program. The library staff offering Explore activities are reaching new audiences, broadening their professional skills, and expanding the horizons of young people to include worlds beyond their own.
The Explore program is designed to engage and inspire children in Earth and space in libraries and other out-of-classroom environments. The program began over a decade ago through a generous grant from the National Science Foundation, and NASA continues to nurture the breadth and depth of Explore materials, resources, and trainings. Explore facilitators have reported that the following characteristics make the materials a success in the library setting:
- Explore activities are fun!
- The materials are flexible …
- Integrate them into existing programs … or create new programs!
- Use them in summer reading programs and camps, after-school programs, festivals, science days, family events …
- Select one activity or conduct the entire selection of activities under a topic
- Offer long- or short-term engagements
- The activities use inexpensive, easy-to-find materials. And, children can take their creations home with them!
- Explore-based programming offers a mechanism for building partnerships with local science institutions, organizations, and clubs.
Why Science in Your Library?
Science is of interest to patrons of all ages, and science can bring new audiences to library programs. Library staff members across the country are using the Explore activities to bring new audiences and interactions into their libraries. For some, the activities are drawing tweens into the library. For others, they are expanding family involvement, bringing in fathers as well as extended family members. Some libraries engage teens as helpers to facilitate the activities.
Libraries are pathways to further resources; through science programs, libraries connect patrons to a variety of their existing science resources.
Explore activities leverage the power and reach of the library! Topics integrate science and reading literacy and point to a wealth of library resources. Once patrons are brought into the library, they can be directed to relevant resources for further learning through the library’s collection.
Within their missions, many libraries strive to instill habits of lifelong learning and literacy in their patrons; science literacy is an increasingly important dimension of citizens in today’s society. Libraries support the growth of their community’s young people into responsible citizens and future leaders. Explore activities and other science experiences in the library support aspects of these missions by engaging young minds beyond mere science facts.
Libraries already play a vital role in helping young people learn and grow. An article in American Scientist proposed that out-of-school experiences may be as—or even more—important as the time devoted to schooling for increasing science literacy. Libraries across the country include science programs and resources among their offerings; it’s one more avenue for lifelong growth of the whole person, and at the library, it’s open to all.
Get Started with Science in Your Library!
The Explore program invites public library staff to open the universe to the young people of their communities—and no prior experience in science is required! Few libraries have access to all the time, funds, and staff support that they need, but Explore modules are structured to provide an entry point into providing science programs for a busy librarian. For each of eleven different Earth and space science topics, Explore provides step-by-step instructions for a selection of investigations, demonstrations, crafts, games, and model-building (including some that are edible!) that help patrons connect with the excitement of science discovery. Each Explore topic is supported by facilitator background information, which is designed to provide an introduction to the exciting discoveries in Earth and space science. Each activity is correlated to the National Science Education Standards. Additionally, lists of related books, websites, handouts, and other resources are provided for each topic.
Start small! Pick an Explore topic of interest to you—or your patrons—and select an activity. Conduct the activity for the appropriate age group during an afterschool program. Or, perhaps find an activity that aligns with a book you will be sharing during a reading program. After you have tried a few activities, perhaps consider how one of the topics might be integrated into a summer program for young patrons. You might even want to try starting an after-school science club and tackle a whole suite of activities in a topic.
Professional Development in Earth and Space Science—for Library Staff!
The Explore program also offers in-person and online trainings periodically. During a training, participants undertake a selection of hands-on activities, interact with Explore educators and NASA scientists to expand their science horizons, and connect with other public program facilitators to nurture ideas for making Explore a part of their library’s programming.
Since its inception over a decade ago, the Explore program has grown to support a community of nearly 800 individuals in 34 states—all trained to bring Earth and space science to their children’s and youth programs. Stay tuned to the Programming Librarian for announcements of trainings online or at a location near you!
Libraries are encouraged to connect with local museums, planetariums, science centers, parks, scientists, astronomical clubs, and NASA’s Solar System Ambassadors. Members of these institutions and organizations are often willing to co-facilitate events and share their experiences, expertise, or resources with young patrons. (Often, members of these institutions and organizations participate in this type of partnership at no cost to the library, as they are tasked with providing education and public outreach services to their communities.) Libraries have even invited these guest co-presenters to facilitate Explore activities (what better way for a tween to start a conversation with a local expert than over an investigation, craft, game, or by building a model together?). School librarians and local teachers are often receptive to coordinating efforts to serve young people. Teens or students at local community colleges and universities have also co-facilitated activities—and the young patrons enjoyed interacting with their near-peers.
Ongoing Virtual Support
Find further ideas at the Explore website. NASA mission news and science, spotlights on how Explore activities are being incorporated into library programs, as well as opportunities and resources related to science programming in libraries, are disseminated here.
The Lunar and Planetary Institute Explore team is looking forward to working with you as you strive to help young patrons “Explore” our world and worlds beyond! Your comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcome and appreciated.